WKRC has long ruled the roost in Cincinnati, but with a clouded ownership picture, its rivals are poised to pounce. The market is rich with progressive, deep-pocketed owners, including Hearst-Argyle, E.W. Scripps and Raycom, and a new player appears close to entering the local game. Newport Television and its backer, Providence Equity Partners, are in the process of taking over the Clear Channel stations, including WKRC. But the billion-dollar deal's would-be deadline has long come and gone (see Station to Station, Jan. 14).
WKRC management has been in flux. Veteran general manager Chris Sehring left in September, his replacement lasted just a few months, and Clear Channel Senior VP Steve Minium—a former WKRC news director—is holding down the fort. “We're going to take charge of the things we can control,” he says. “That's how the station will continue to be successful.”
To be sure, WKRC remains strong. The CBS affiliate won total day and primetime ratings in November, along with morning and late news. But the competition is stiff. Benefiting from having Scripps headquarters in Cincinnati, WCPO was second in primetime, and wins noon and evening news.
The No. 33 Nielsen DMA took in $160.9 million in 2007, according to BIA Financial. WKRC won the 2006 race with $46.175 million, ahead of WCPO ($39.1 million), Raycom's Fox outlet WXIX ($37.175 million) and Hearst-Argyle's NBC affiliate WLWT ($35.5 million). Sinclair owns the MyNetworkTV station, and Clear Channel airs CW programming on its digital channel.
Local business is lukewarm, owing primarily to an over-reliance on automotive spots that haven't been coming through. Manufacturing monolith Procter & Gamble makes its home in Cincinnati, and the cable players are Time Warner Cable and Insight. Ohio was a crucial battleground in the 2004 election, and the local television industry is hoping to play a similar role as the primary approaches on March 4.
Station managers say Cincy, with its focus on the arts, state-of-the-art Great American Ballpark and down-to-earth populace, is an excellent place to reside. “It's one of the country's best kept secrets,” says Minium. “Something like 70% of the residents were born here—the city's got a great sense of self.”
Minium credits a “laser-like focus” on local news as the key to WKRC's eminence, but his competition seems just as focused. Stations are not only looking toward new platforms with which to reach out to the market, but to finally make them profitable as well. “The business model has kind of lagged behind the Websites,” says WCPO VP/General Manager Bill Fee. “In 2008, the plan is for the new platforms to actually make money for the company.”
For WCPO, that includes the KYPost.com site, which launched from the ashes of the Kentucky Post newspaper last month. For WXIX, it's e-mail alerts covering everything from restaurant deals to weather flashes. For WLWT, it's projects such as High School Playbook, a dedicated YouTube channel, and the new auto dealer site CincyAutobahn.com. “WLWT.com is the No. 1 broadcast Website in Cincinnati,” says President/General Manager Richard Dyer. “We're very excited about what we're doing there.”
Ownership turmoil notwithstanding, WKRC likes the view from the top. “Being Cincinnati's news and weather authority is not just something we say about ourselves,” says Minium. “It's something the market says about us.”
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